Air pollution is the “new tobacco”, the head of the World Health Organization has warned, saying the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more.
Over 90% of the world’s population suffers toxic air and research is increasingly revealing the profound impacts on the health of people, especially children.
“The world has turned the corner on tobacco. Now it must do the same for the ‘new tobacco’ – the toxic air that billions breathe every day,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general. “No one, rich or poor, can escape air pollution. It is a silent public health emergency.”
“Despite this epidemic of needless, preventable deaths and disability, a smog of complacency pervades the planet,” Tedros said, in an article for the Guardian. “This is a defining moment and we must scale up action to urgently respond to this challenge.”
The WHO is hosting its first global conference on air pollution and health in Geneva next week, including a high-level action day at which nations and cities are expected to make new commitments to cut air pollution.